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Delaware Avenue traffic changes get mixed reactions

Motorists on two busy stretches of Delaware Avenue – one in downtown Buffalo, the other in the Village of Kenmore – have in recent weeks encountered changes designed to “calm” traffic.

In both cases, the double-yellow center line was eliminated and the roadway was reconfigured into two travel lanes, one in each direction; a center, two-way turn lane; and two parking lanes.

In Buffalo, the 1.2-mile stretch from Niagara Square to North Street was resurfaced and striped in a $300,000 project by city contractor Destro Brothers Concrete. Bike lanes were added and signals were timed to keep cars moving smoothly on the main north-south artery.

“As downtown is changing, we’re adapting with it. But the positive feedback – there’s been a tremendous amount of positive feedback to us,” said Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak.

Cycling enthusiasts applauded the addition of bike lanes, which are part of the city’s “complete streets” model for safely accommodating multiple forms of transportation when planning road projects.

“I think they’re fantastic,” said Justin Booth, executive director of Go Bike Buffalo. “It really does a lot to calm the traffic, make it safer for everybody on the street – drivers, cyclists, pedestrians.”

Meanwhile, four miles north there are now two, 11-foot travel lanes; a 12-foot center, two-way turn lane; and two 8-foot parking lanes on the 1-mile stretch of Delaware through the village’s business district from Kenmore Avenue to Princeton Boulevard.

“Essentially we went from two lanes with parking to three lanes with parking within the same footprint,” said Susan S. Surdej, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation, which identifies Delaware as state Route 384.

The route had long been confusing as drivers often doubled up on the wide unmarked lanes leading to uncomfortable closeness. The Village Board responded to resident and business owner comments last year by passing a resolution asking the DOT to consider restriping it.

“We’ve gotten very good reaction to the way Delaware Avenue is functioning now,” Surdej said.

The project was not without a hiccup, however. Signals where Euclid and Lasalle streets meet Delaware at an offset intersection were initially not timed properly for the new traffic pattern, leading to long backups in June.

Alan P. Walaski-Miller, owner of Miss Josie’s Antiques at the corner of Delaware and Lasalle, said he likes the new pattern and has seen fewer accidents and near-accidents.

“There’s more traffic tie-ups but, oh well, people have to be patient,” he said.

That problem may have been solved when in-road sensors to trip the lights were installed last week by the DOT on Euclid and Lasalle, which will allow traffic to move on Delaware until a vehicle is waiting at one of the side streets. Left-turn arrows were also added for vehicles turning off Delaware.

Nevertheless, the initial reaction by some residents has been less than enthusiastic.

“Is it easier to get through Kenmore now than it was before this?” asked Melissa Foster, president of the Kenmore Village Improvement Society. “No, it’s not.”

She cited long waits in the single travel lane to eventually make a right-hand turn on a side street and concern for the safety of cyclists who must now ride with traffic. The 50-foot-wide road is too narrow to accommodate bike lanes, she said.

Before, bicyclists were off to the side, “And it was well known that they were there,” said Foster, who wants to see a campaign to educate the public.

Orange signs stating “Warning: Change in traffic pattern” are posted along Delaware in Buffalo, including where Delaware merges from two lanes to one in front of the Holiday Inn south of North Street on the west side of Delaware. There was no such notification present in Kenmore, where motorists have to quickly merge after entering the village from the Town of Tonawanda to the north and the City of Buffalo to the south.

But village officials were more upbeat in their assessment.

“We’ve had nothing but positive comments to the village once that one light issue was resolved,” said Kenmore Clerk-Treasurer Kathleen Johnson. “The Police Department has been very happy with the flow of traffic.”

“I am quite pleased with the traffic pattern and flow on Delaware Ave since the new pattern was put into place,” Police Chief Peter J. Breitnauer said by email. “We will continue to monitor the new configuration but my initial thoughts are positive.”

Surdej said the new configuration is safer because the dedicated left-turn lane eliminates the prospect of cars holding up traffic as they wait to turn and the lane-switching that happens because of it.

“I think it’s probably just a much better plan all the way around for the merchants and the motorists that travel through the village,” she said.

The changes, however, may not be etched in stone. Foster said 2014 was the scheduled year for the DOT to restripe the road.

“They made it clear that if this isn’t considered to be a good thing that they can restripe it,” she said.